Karl Radek
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Report on Czechoslovak Question

December 4, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 1057-1062.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

Comrades, brothers and sisters: The commission that took up the Czechoslovak question presents to you its unanimously adopted resolution. This is all the more important because, as you know, the dispute in the Czechoslovak party was sized up to some degree as a fundamental conflict between the party’s Left and Right. There were comrades in our commission who were, on principle, not always in agreement with the Executive on many points and can be considered part of the left wing, so to speak. Nonetheless, we arrived at a unanimous resolution.

The Communist International is less familiar with the essence of the dispute in the Czechoslovak party than it is with similar disputes in other parties, because in Czechoslovakia it became evident only in the last few months. Nonetheless it has a rather lengthy prehistory. In summary, this prehistory consists of the fact that the Czechoslovak Communist Party was formed by the majority of the old Social Democratic party, which had evolved to communism. In the process, some cadres who led this evolution in political and intellectual terms were hesitant at some points on organisational questions. Thus Comrade Šmeral, for example, who from the beginning played an outstanding role in the struggles of the Czechoslovak party, took the position at the end of 1920, when conditions were already ripe for formation of a party, that this was still premature. And the quarrels in the party at that time over what was the right moment to structure the Communist Party generated a mistrust in certain circles of the party. The present disputes in the Czechoslovak Communist Party arise from the struggles in party as it was forming – which we were aware of even before the Third Congress – and with the survivals of this mistrust.

The Czechoslovak Communist Party, like all our large mass parties, has only just worked its way through to a communism of practice. Not a single one of our mass parties was born just like that as a consolidated Communist Party with all its practical engagement. And in the same way, that was not the case with the Czechoslovak Communist Party. It has existed for only a short time and was created through the connecting up of a whole number of Communist organisations of different nationalities. Its political centralisation is insufficient and falls short of the party’s tasks in the struggle.

The party suffers from a large number of inadequacies. We discussed them in detail in the Expanded Executive in July with the representatives of the present opposition and the party Executive. Among the inadequacies were the fact that the party had not got far in building its trade union fractions, which meant that, in the struggle against the Amsterdamers, it often let things take their course. In addition, the conduct of the party’s fraction in the Czechoslovak parliament was insufficiently demonstrative and agitational. The Communist Party deputies still did not do enough to link their parliamentary activity with that of the party outside, across the country.

Take the question of our agitation among the soldiers, which caused such a storm in the bourgeois press in Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak government seeks to present this as if a dreadful conspiracy were being hatched here in Moscow against Masaryk and his republic. In Czechoslovakia the soldiers have the right to vote and also, under the constitution, the right to take part in political life. Therefore, we told the party: You have the duty to utilise the rights given you through the constitution so that Czechoslovak soldiers do not know merely what is at stake in the struggle there but also the degree to which they as workers and peasants are on the side of the working people.

And if the Czechoslovak bourgeoisie believes that it must attack the party on this question, we reply that this attack is aimed above all at the political rights of the soldiers. We will see whether the bourgeoisie is then willing to risk making such an attack. Previously, the party has done little in this arena. And because of its inadequate activity, when unemployment began to rise more and more, the party did not succeed in forging ties immediately and sufficiently with the jobless, in fighting for their cause in parliament and in the trade unions, and in bringing the workers and jobless together in struggle.

These weaknesses and shortcomings strengthened the suspicion of a group of old and good party comrades. If these comrades had been content to make the inadequacies known to the party leadership and the Communist International, to stress them, and to provide practical help in overcoming them, such criticism and positive work would arouse no objections. It would be a healthy part of the party’s overall work. Unfortunately, however, the comrades gave way to mistrust and fell into an attitude of rejecting everything. The comrades made assertions in the party that were entirely without foundation. Thus comrades of the opposition spread the rumour that the party leadership under Comrade Šmeral were secretly preparing a coalition with the bourgeoisie. All it needed was for some bourgeois get-together to take place in Marienbad [Mariánské Lázně]. It didn’t matter that Comrade Šmeral was not in Marienbad. He was in Carlsbad [Karlovy Vary], and moreover he was not in a bourgeois meeting but in a party meeting, but it was enough. ‘Bad’ [bath] is ‘Bad’, and just who he was having that bath with, we don’t know. (Laughter)

But reports about some kind of goings-on between the party leadership and the bourgeois parties were spread through the party, poisoning its unity. In our opinion, these reports are sheer lunacy. For just imagine: the party calls for a united front and a workers’ government; Šmeral carries out all that; and at the same time he is supposedly negotiating to enter the government. If he was that crazy, he might get into the government, but he certainly would have to leave the Communist Party.

All it takes is for some bourgeois papers to write about the dispute in the party, saying that Šmeral is ridding the party of left elements, and the comrades of the opposition say: Here is the evidence that Šmeral is up to something together with the bourgeoisie. This mood has led good comrades to desperate efforts to establish a publication for their faction. In the old Czech Social Democratic party, when we were in opposition, we had our paper, Komunista. It worked like dynamite for us in the Czech Social Democratic party. This paper still exists, but only accidentally, because Comrade Šturc was its publisher. The opposition went as far as to write an appeal to party representatives, for which they received a warning from the party leadership that they should not alarm the broad masses of the party with fallacious assertions.

The opposition did not submit to the party leadership’s decision. At the party conference, it was demonstrated that their claims were untrue and they were told to withdraw them. The opposition did not withdraw them, and for that they were expelled from the party conference. The [Comintern] Executive did not uphold this decision to expel the opposition, and for that it came under attack here from the majority of Czech comrades. This action, the Executive’s critics said, had undermined the Czech party’s discipline.

Well, comrades, as for the Czech party’s discipline, the situation is not good. Here is the sort of thing that happens. An editor of a newspaper in a smaller centre says: I have been here long enough. He is told: Stay where you are; we do not have a replacement. So then the comrade gives three months’ notice that he is leaving and goes to Prague. Or, to take another example, the editors write articles that do not present the party’s point of view but also do not carry a by-line. And then the editors say: We are the Holy Ghost and our politics are autonomous.

This indiscipline is an heirloom from the old Social Democracy, and we must put a stop to it. But when this indiscipline has been tolerated for so long, and now Comrade Šturc and other comrades are just tossed out of the party without further ado, that just did not make sense. We said you could have waited for the world congress, in order to have a serious discussion with us and the comrades of the Czech opposition.

But these were not the only factors in our decision. Every opposition attracts forces who – I would not want to bet they will be members of the party for very long. But there are also veteran, sincere comrades in this opposition whom we want to hold in the party, not because we think they are superior, but because we are convinced of their proletarian sentiments. If they could shake off their great mistrust, they could become good comrades.

We really made great efforts in the commission to check out all these matters. Charges were raised against Comrade Šmeral regarding which we had to say: No, these charges are not true; we're not going along with that. But even so, we came to the conclusion that the expulsion from the party should not be upheld. However, the comrades had in fact committed a gross breach of discipline. And we have an interest in helping the Czech comrades understand that no party of struggle can exist without discipline. So we are in favour of the comrades not being expelled but being suspended from their posts in the Czech party until its next congress. If they show after the world congress that they really want to collaborate seriously in the party, there is nothing to prevent the Czech comrades from voting for them again.

However, comrades, I want to say a few words that I hope comrades will take to heart. In the commission we often had the experience that we would demonstrate irrefutably that a charge was absurd, and ten minutes later, comrades would stick their hands in their pockets and insist that it had been clearly proven here that this very charge was true. Comrades raised the accusation against the party that its leadership seeks to link the party with the bourgeoisie. We determined that nothing of the kind had happened and that the Czech party is a good proletarian party. Then the comrades responded: You are only confirming that we were right.

I want to speak here in particular to Comrades Bolen and Šturc. If you are going to carry on in this fashion, and the party acts to protect itself, the International will not be in a position to hold them back. There must be an end to the flinging about of such unsubstantiated charges. If you see something bad in the party, fight against it, and appeal to the International. But the party must feel confident that it is not led by traitors and turncoats but by comrades who have grown up in the party’s work and who have the confidence of its membership. If you want to describe comrades Šmeral, Kreibich, and others as traitors, we must say we know these comrades far too long to accept anything like that as true. We point out the weaknesses present in the party. And the opposition is no less to blame for these weaknesses than others in the party. ('Very true!’)

The only way to emerge from this situation is through common work carried out in a fraternal spirit. The Czech party is in a situation more grave than any other party of the International. The country has three million industrial workers and six hundred thousand unemployed. It has twelve million inhabitants, among whom there is grave dissension – among the Slovaks, among the Germans. There is raw material for major national and social conflicts. This situation makes Czechoslovakia one of the countries where we may experience great surprises. I doubt that the Czechoslovak party is equal to these surprises. Our efforts must therefore be directed at putting the party in a position to carry out successful work, so that it will not only be able to refute charges and overcome mistrust but become a good party capable of carrying out constructive revolutionary work.

We propose that you adopt the resolution we are presenting to you. It was approved unanimously in the commission, both by comrades who, you might say, have a bit of a limp in their left leg and those of whom it is said that they steal glances to the right. It was adopted unanimously after lengthy discussions, and after working our way through a great deal of documentation, which we were required to digest, even though it was not pleasant to read. All this documentation provided evidence that what we have here is the starting point for an anarcho-syndicalist current. We do not want them outside the party; we want to resolve the issues through constructive work in the party. We therefore ask you to refrain from discussion and to adopt the commission’s resolution. (Loud applause)